Sometimes a film won't easily cut loose its secrets, demanding that you sign up for the long haul, 'cause, otherwise, maybe you're not worthy of making its acquaintance. Terence Davies' new film The Deep Blue Sea (reviewed yesterday) works in that mode as does Daniel Nettheim's The Hunter, adapted from the novel by Julia Leigh. It's a film where motives are made transparent, while meanings remain opaque until nearly the end of the picture. Those who found Claire Denis' 2009 film White Material impossible to shake from memory will find something to capture their imagination here, while others may simply find their patience dwindling within the first quarter of the film.
Willem Dafoe plays Martin, the hunter referenced in the title, hired by a shadowy firm interested in cloning to track and harvest the genetic material of what's believed to be the last of the long extinct Tasmanian tiger (aka Tasmanian devil). He arrives in Australia presenting himself as a scientist to the already stirred-up townspeople; there's a struggle being fought in the woods between the local environmentalists and loggers. Martin sets up lodging in the home of Lucy (Frances O'Connor), a woman whose husband disappeared while on the path of the tiger, leaving her children without a father. And it's not long before Lucy and the kids (Finn Woodlock and Morgana Davies) begin to look at Martin as a possible proxy for their missing patriarch.
The film resists overdeveloping the human relationships; Sam Neill shows up here and there as a vaguely menacing individual who's been hired to guide Martin to the edge of the wilderness. Most of the characters conveniently melt away whenever it's time for Martin to get back on the path. What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a man vs. nature narrative that pivots strongly on the question of whether or not our "opponent" has been or should be reduced to raw materials. That might sound like a rather preachy tale; I assure you it is not. The Hunter leans strongly on its wide open passages, sequences where dialogue and explanation take leave in favor of wrestling with the unknown. And, by doing so, it rises above simple proselytizing.
The Hunter begins its run at the Living Room Theaters on Fri., April 27th. More info available here.
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